March 24, 2008

Salasaga burns brightly at its start

Author: Bruce Byfield

One of the remaining gaps in the GNU/Linux desktop is an editor for producing Flash content. When viewing Flash files, users can limp along with Adobe's proprietary player or the still-incomplete although free Gnash player, but the best they can do for Flash creation is employ the limited ability of Draw to export to the format. Considering the often trivial uses to which Flash is put, this lack is not entirely lamentable, but the fact remains that nothing remotely comparable to Adobe's Flash CS3 Professional. Salasaga, which until recently was called the Flame Project, is an effort to fill this gap by providing the functionality of Adobe Captivate for producing Flash computer tutorials and animations. However, at version 0.7.7, it is focusing on bare functionality more than a polished interface.

Salasaga is a cross-platform effort available for GNU/Linux, BSD, Solaris Nevada, and Windows. You can install it on GNU/Linux from source code, or by downloading packages for Gentoo, Fedora, or Ubuntu. Its dependencies include at least version 2.10 of Glib and GTK+, version 1.16 of Pango, version 2.6.30 of libxml2, and version 0.4.0.beta5 of Ming, which provides the Flash capacity. Installation by any means adds a menu item to the Graphics menu on the GNOME desktop.

Opening Salasaga, you could easily think you are in a slide show program. Individual slides display on the left, and the current slide appears on the bottom right. On the top right is information about the layers on the current side.

Menus are logically laid out across the top of the editing window. From the editing menu, you can set the defaults for new projects, including the default display size of finished projects, the preview width, and the default background color. After adjusting these settings, you proceed logically from the right as you develop a project, progressing from Screenshots for importation through Slide and Layer to Export. This progression is so logical that few viewers should have trouble teaching themselves the basics of the software and producing a test project in less than 20 minutes -- and saving it in native .flame format or exporting it to Flash or SVG formats.

Still, along the way, you can't help but notice a lack of finish. The only major problem with functionality is that the screenshot-taking capacity doesn't work immediately with the X Window System, and requires adding Option "AllowDeactivateGrabs" "true" to the Server Flags section of your xorg.conf file, then pressing the keys Control-Alt-/ before each screen shot, as detailed in the project documentation.

Other restrictions show the lack of flexibility that might be expected in a project under heavy development. For instance, the name of each screenshot must begin with the project name, followed by a sequential number. No file selection program is available, although as you use the tool to import screenshots into the project, Salasaga does conveniently delete them from the folder they came from.

Even more noticeably, little can be done with the mouse (you might at first miss the fact that you can adjust settings for layers by clicking them). Mostly, you position slides and their contents via dialog windows and menus. Slides must be arranged via the menu, and renamed in a dialog. You add text and graphics to the top left corner of a slide and maneuver them into position by setting their X and Y coordinates in a dialog. This last feature means that arranging slides is largely a matter of trial and error; it is also a major annoyance when you are trying to add more than one image to the same slide.

Nor is there the time-line you would expect in an animation or video program. Instead, you set the duration that each slide displays through a dialog, a process that requires constantly moving between slides to ensure that you don't lose track of how frames are used. A graphical display would vastly simplify the building of a project, especially a large one.

Also missing are features that those familiar with Flash Professional or Adobe Captivate might expect, such as drawing tools, a scripting language, and support for sound and video.

Surprisingly, even under these primitive conditions, Salasaga remains relatively easy to use and to produce output in. However, as the software moves closer to completion, advanced features and usability need to be given greater attention if Salasaga is to be a complete replacement for its proprietary counterparts. For now, it is a promising start, but definitely a work in progress.


  • Graphics & Multimedia